We're not quite there yet, but we're working on it: MLK March scene in Seattle
We're not quite there yet, but we're working on it: MLK March scene in Seattle

We have seen a lot of protest in the past cou­ple years.

We wit­nessed protests after the mur­der of Ahmaud Arbery by strangers. Then peo­ple protest­ed in response to the mur­der of Bre­on­na Tay­lor by the police. That was fol­lowed by world­wide Black Lives Mat­ter protests in response to the mur­der of George Floyd, who was also killed by the police.

Peo­ple marched in Minneapolis.

They marched in New York City. They marched in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., our nation’s cap­i­tal. They marched in Seat­tle. They marched in Portland.

As some marched, out of con­cern for the health of my par­ents, who are in their sev­en­ties, I decid­ed to avoid phys­i­cal con­tact with peo­ple out­side of my close cir­cle. Instead, I went live on Face­book, chal­leng­ing peo­ple to show up dif­fer­ent­ly for their Black fam­i­ly mem­bers and col­leagues and neigh­bors, for church mem­bers who shared a pew or par­tic­i­pat­ed in the same home group.

I began to fol­low oth­ers who were read­ing and speak­ing and writ­ing about cur­rent events — about police bru­tal­i­ty, about immi­gra­tion, about who was being impact­ed by the nov­el coro­n­avirus, about vir­tu­al learning.

I watched as peo­ple on my Face­book time­line post­ed hor­ri­ble mes­sages about Black Lives Mat­ter marchers and sug­gest­ed Black peo­ple should just “get with the pro­gram or leave the country.”

I watched peo­ple I had known for decades rage about the require­ment to wear a mask, say­ing it impinged on their free­doms, sug­gest­ing that all of us who were will­ing to be vac­ci­nat­ed were igno­rant lemmings.

I did not march, but I was com­mit­ted to doing any­thing to con­tribute to change. There was only so much talk­ing I could do, only so many hours in the day.

I had to find a plat­form that could do the work when I could not be around, while I was asleep. So I wrote a book.

And then I began to get calls from schools about stu­dents who were being called the “n‑word” and oth­ers who were being harassed for their gen­der identities.

I have host­ed a week­ly con­ven­ing of edu­ca­tors, par­ent and stu­dents for close to two years. Until recent­ly, we spent the time respond­ing to ran­dom prob­lems of prac­tice relat­ed to equity.

Sud­den­ly, the inci­dents of offense were so many (the most I had seen in my thir­ty year career in edu­ca­tion) that we knew we must devote our time to cre­at­ing a plan to help the edu­ca­tion sys­tem sig­nif­i­cant­ly change to cre­ate school spaces that were safe and affirm­ing for our most under­rep­re­sent­ed students.

And then a boy at a bas­ket­ball game record­ed him­self yelling at the point guard of the oppos­ing team, call­ing him “goril­la” and mak­ing ape noises.

That video was post­ed on Insta­gram and the Black boy, who was tar­get­ed, was tagged. The boys both attend schools in our coun­ty — not the same dis­trict but the same region. To com­pli­cate mat­ters, the offend­er is an immi­grant, a refugee, in fact. His fam­i­ly left every­thing they knew after years of high­er edu­ca­tion and jobs with great esteem to come to Amer­i­ca, the land of opportunity.

The offend­ed boy is the son of a Black father who expe­ri­enced much of the same as a child in our com­mu­ni­ty, who can tell sto­ries of being called names as an ath­lete almost twen­ty years ago.

He speaks of hopes he had for his child to not have to endure the same.

And so the stu­dents protest. The stu­dents in both schools protested.

Stu­dents at the school of “the offend­er” orga­nized and par­tic­i­pat­ed in a “walk­out” demand­ing their school hold their class­mate account­able and call­ing for peers to speak up in the future and not tol­er­ate such behavior.

Six days lat­er, the Black Stu­dent Union of the “oth­er” school invit­ed the Black com­mu­ni­ty — par­ents, com­mu­ni­ty advo­cates, pas­tors, edu­ca­tors — to a town hall meet­ing where they shared their sto­ries of mis­treat­ment in school spaces (racial and sex­u­al harass­ment). They had a list of demands, short and long-term. They planned a “strike,” which I expect­ed to be like the “walk­out” at the oth­er school.

On Mon­day, I dis­cov­ered that the plan for the strike was going to be much dif­fer­ent than the walk-out the pre­vi­ous week.

The stu­dent strike would be like the two Taco­ma teach­ers union strikes I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to par­tic­i­pate in — one at the begin­ning of my first year as a teacher and the oth­er sev­er­al years ago when I walked the pick­et lines with friends who work for the dis­trict. Unlike the teacher strike, where lead­ers were trained on nego­ti­a­tion and had a process in place to fol­low, years of teacher strikes before them, these stu­dents did not have a play­book. They knew they were hurt­ing and being hurt by pub­lic edu­ca­tion — for their racial iden­ti­ties and for their genders.

Stu­dents came with a list of demands — short-term and long-term — but, for a vari­ety of rea­sons, they were not trust­ing of any­one in admin­is­tra­tion or any adults with whom they did not have pre­vi­ous relationship.

Not trust­ing adults makes it very dif­fi­cult to nego­ti­ate with adults.

Stu­dents used social media to share their plat­form and pub­li­cize the events of the day. Rupert Mur­doch’s FNC showed up almost every day post­ing a pho­tog­ra­ph­er on the cor­ner just off cam­pus. On sev­er­al occa­sions, par­ents who did not sup­port the strike showed up to make their feel­ings known.

There were threats of vio­lence in the com­ment sec­tion of news reports towards the stu­dents and towards the school.

There is not one way to protest.

Protest is marching.

Protest is writing.

Protest is negotiating.

Protest is quiet.

Protest is loud.

We are a week out from the first day of stu­dent protests, and the stu­dents have final­ly built enough trust with adults to sit at a table with them. Admin­is­tra­tion has pro­vid­ed sev­er­al iter­a­tions of respons­es to stu­dent demands.

Small groups of stu­dents con­tin­ue to march. Small groups of par­ents and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers con­tin­ue to show up at the build­ing each morn­ing to sup­port the stu­dents in any way possible.

At this moment, I sit in Atlanta in my hotel room prepar­ing to address a room full of edu­ca­tion lead­ers from across the nation about the role of equi­ty in edu­ca­tion. This will be my sec­ond pre­sen­ta­tion at the Dig­i­tal Learn­ing Annu­al Con­fer­ence (DLAC), where I share sto­ries of stu­dents and admin­is­tra­tors back at home.

The top­ic of our con­ver­sa­tion today is “Are we at a tip­ping point in education?”

The protest as we have wit­nessed it in Lacey, the con­cerns expressed by stu­dents and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers are a reflec­tion of cur­rent real­i­ties in the Unit­ed States. We as a nation are at a tip­ping point. Who do we want to be? Who is us?

Who do we want to be as a nation from here out? Do we want lib­er­a­tion for all peo­ple who reside with­in our board­ers? Are we will­ing to be hon­est about our his­to­ry and embrace all the truths — the good, the bad, and the ugly?

Are we will­ing to look at sys­tems as they are — edu­ca­tion being one of those — to deter­mine the ways they are fail­ing US and doing harm?

We are at a tip­ping point as a nation.

There are many ways peo­ple are protest­ing our cur­rent real­i­ties. So many are hurt­ing. Many have lost work. They have lost con­nec­tion to others.

We have lost loved ones. We are tired. We are anxious.

There are so many unknowns. Unknowns cre­ate fear. When peo­ple are afraid, they respond in ways that do harm — to our­selves and to others.

In our fear, may we find pur­pose. May we lever­age our col­lec­tive pain and strug­gle to make our­selves and our com­mu­ni­ties better.

What is your protest?

Feb­ru­ary is Black His­to­ry Month.

What are you doing to make your com­mu­ni­ty a bet­ter place for Black people?

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